From the beginning, The Runaways had to rise above stereotypical views of what a rock group is and what it isn’t. An all-girl rock band? Unheard of in the mid-70s when they formed. And none of these girls were out of their teens. The oldest member was guitarist Lita Ford at seventeen. The perception in the musical world was that a teenage girl band couldn’t rock. The Runaways dispelled that myth, all the while struggling with the sometimes overwhelming world of rock’n’roll.
In the mid-seventies, colorful record producer Kim Fowley had the idea to form an all-girl rock band. Teenage guitarist Joan Jett and 15 year old drummer Sandy West expressed the same desire when they met him in 1975. Bassist Micki Steele – later a member of The Bangles – joined Jett and West and the power trio played the party and club circuit around Los Angeles. Soon after, lead guitarist Lita Ford was added. “The very first phone conversation I had with Kim Fowley, he pumped me up so much,” Ford says in the documentary Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways. “’We’re gonna make lots of money and tour the world.’ Who could resist?”
After a few lineup changes, the group was signed to Mercury Records in 1976. The group soon released it’s first record, The Runaways, which was praised by the website Allmusic.com. The website compared the band’s music to material by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses, citing The Runaways’ bold approach. “With this album, the Runaways made it crystal clear that women (or specifically, adolescent girls) were more than capable of playing intense, forceful hard rock that went directly for the jugular. Lusty classics like ‘Cherry Bomb’ and ‘You Drive Me Wild’ made no attempt to conceal the fact that teenage girls could be every bit as sexual as the guys….”
A year later, with the release of their second album – Queens of Noise – The Runaways embarked on their first world tour. They were also unprepared for the superstardom they had attained in Japan. In that country, The Runaways were number 4 behind ABBA, Kiss and Led Zeppelin in terms of album sales and popularity. The mass hysteria and onslaught of fans that greeted them at the airport was later described by guitarist Jett as being "like Beatlemania." While in Japan, The Runaways did numerous television appearances and released the live album Live in Japan.
The Runaways released just two more albums before their career ended. Waitin' for the Night saw Joan Jett taking over vocals as lead singer Cherie Currie left to pursue a solo career. During that time, they also parted ways with their first manager, Kim Fowley. Fowley and others have been accused of mismanagement of the band and other wild behavior. "I'm the psycho Svengali," he admitted in an interview. "But I was just trying to make a living." And Now... The Runaways was released a year later. Shortly thereafter, the band called it quits.
Differences in the direction The Runaways were to take musically was just one of the reasons the band broke up. Despite the problems that they faced, The Runaways left a permanent mark on the music scene of the mid-to late seventies. “The Runaways were rebels, all of us were,” former lead singer Cherie Currie said in a 2001 book. “And a lot of people looked up to us. It helped a lot of kids who had very mediocre, uneventful, unhappy lives. It gave them something to hold on to.”